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Home » Girl Gone Wonk, News

It’s dangerous. Stop doing it. No bribes necessary

Submitted by on Monday, 19 October 2009 No Comment
Recent studies show that texting behind the wheel is more dangerous than driving drunk. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia already ban texting while driving. Federal employees can't do it, and there already was bill pending in Congress that would force the remaining 12 states to ban texting while driving.

So why is there a competing bill in Congress - one that stands a much greater chance of passing, by the way - that would give out grants to states that ban texting while driving?

Because Sen. Jay Rockefeller wants to play nice and offer states $60 million over two years if they'll ban texting while driving. According to the Los Angeles Times, the money would be diverted from a program to encourage seat-belt use.

Gee, $60 million is a lot of encouragement. It's stunning that we still need that big of a pep rally 25 years after the first seat belt laws were passed. The laws cover the entire country now, except for adults in the freedom-loving state of New Hampshire. Apparently folks there would rather be ejected from a car and die than have the government tell them what to do.

One lawmaker argued that deciding whether to use a seat belt is a fundamental right. Even a $3.7 million bribe offered to states that create or update seatbelt laws by July 31 is failing to sway the Granite State.

Rockefeller's West Virginia also loses $1 million a year in highway funds because the Legislature refuses to pass a law that would make seat-belt violations subject to primary enforcement, meaning someone could be pulled over for that offense alone, as opposed to secondary enforcement, which means they can be sited only if they happen to be stopped for some other violation.

So much for the Rockefeller theory of effective safety legislation.

If you want to see states pass safety laws quickly,  bring out the whoopin' stick. That's what Congress did in 1984 when it wanted the drinking age raised to 21. Do it, or we'll cut your highway funding 10 percent. Funny how when it's couched in those terms it's no longer a rights issue. The drinking age now is 21 even in New Hampshire.

Look back a little further, to the 1970s and speed limit legislation. Congress says do it or we'll dock you. Quickly, 50 states pass speed limits at or lower than the 55 mph in the federal law. Even New Hampshire!

Now, back to today and the government's limited success at getting all 50 states to make seat-belt laws the subject of primary enforcement: In a hyper-paranoid way, the resistance to the laws as an "erosion of freedom" is understandable. It's not reasonable, but if you pretzelize yourself enough, you can get a glimpse of something resembling logic.

First they force us into seat belts, next they take our Big Macs. Wild radicals in this school of thought oppose even child safety seat laws. Bouncing around in the back seat was good enough for me, so it's good enough for junior, too.

Except texting while driving isn't an issue of just hurting your own fool self. A study released this summer of long-haul truckers found that they were 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash while texting, the New York Times reported. Chances are, those collisions are not going to be all single-vehicle.

Forget the bribe. Just pass the law: Do it or we take your highway money. By this time next year, all 50 states will have fallen into in line. Except for maybe New Hampshire.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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